8.6 Million People Face Hunger
By Néfer Muñoz
Food insecurity affects the poorest residents of the Central American "drought corridor", alerts the World Food Program. They are the victims of natural disasters.
SAN JOSE, (Tierramérica).- Some 8.6 million people in Central America suffer food insecurity and some degree of hunger, says a new report by the United Nations World Food Program (WFP).
Those affected are the poorest populations that live in the region's "drought corridor", a horseshoe-shaped band that covers part of southern Guatemala, northwest Nicaragua and the south of Honduras and El Salvador, according to the WFP study.
"It is a very critical situation," Olga Moraga, the WFP spokeswoman for Latin America and the Caribbean, told Tierramérica.
The report is the result of a survey conducted by WFP experts, government personnel and staff from other UN agencies in 122 rural communities within the drought corridor.
The 8.6 million Central Americans -- around 24 percent of the total regional population of 36 million -- suffer food shortages due mostly to the natural disasters that have thrashed the isthmus during the last decade.
The series of extreme droughts alternating with floods leaves the eroded agricultural areas increasingly vulnerable to crop failure.
In 1996 and 1997, the region experienced drought, then the next year Hurricane Mitch wrought further devastation through massive flooding.
In 1999 the drought returned and has since undermined the subsistence economy of thousands of peasant farming families dedicated to monoculture of maize, beans or coffee.
"Since Mitch, we haven't been able to achieve even a minimum output," says Rubén Castellanos, 47, resident of the village of El Barro in the southern Honduran department of El Paraíso.
In many neighboring municipalities, the corn and bean fields of the year's second growing season are drying up due to lack of rain, Castellanos told Tierramérica.
"We planted in September to harvest in December, but we are extremely worried because it hasn't rained," he said.
Like him, the 800 residents of El Barro and their neighbors in surrounding communities are enduring the perverse cycle of lack of rain, loss of crops and deepening of hunger.
More than 85 percent of the families in the drought corridor have been hit by a succession of natural disasters in the last 10 years, which has affected their work, reduced income and caused livestock to die, prompting many to leave, says the WFP report.
Just 36 percent of the families in the drought area own the land they farm, and only 23 percent have their ownership papers in order, indicates the survey conducted of 18,000 families.
The study also reveals that 70 percent of the communities lack medical centers, 37 percent of the adults are illiterate and 31 percent have only a third-grade education. The landless families are the most vulnerable to the hunger problem. All told, these groups make up 52.5 percent of the population of the "drought corridor".
* Néfer Muñoz is an IPS correspondent.